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Ray Mattioli and friends near the waterfront

Internship Spotlight: Ray Mattioli ’24, Two Oceans Aquarium Foundation

Ray Mattioli ’24 says leaning into what he learned in the core curriculum helped him succeed in a summer internship in the sustainability space.

Ray Mattioli ’24

Internship: Two Oceans Aquarium Foundation (Cape Town, South Africa)
Hometown: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Pronouns: he/him/his
Clubs and affiliations: Africa Business & Society club, Yale Grad Rugby Club, Academic Affairs Committee, Student Life Committee, Social Impact Consulting Club
Favorite SOM class: The Global Macroeconomy
Favorite SOM professor: Judy Chevalier
Favorite New Haven eatery: Olmo
Favorite Yale study space: Gryphon’s Pub

This summer I interned with the Two Oceans Aquarium Foundation to tackle issues surrounding sustainability in local seafood at the V&A Waterfront, one of the three highest commercially trafficked precincts on the African continent. Our goal was to ensure that the Social Impact and Food Ecosystem team at the V&A had a comprehensive solution for implementing a sustainable seafood initiative across the Waterfront retailers and suppliers in Cape Town. We worked to understand the current seafood landscape, then create a pilot program to incentivize these suppliers, retailers, and restaurants to use more sustainable practices.

At around $2.5 trillion, the ocean economy is the seventh-largest economic sector globally. Around 40% of the world’s population lives within 100km of the coast, and the United Nations estimates that by 2030 as many as 40 million people will be employed by ocean-based industries globally, with a high percentage involved in harvesting and retailing wild or farmed seafood. Small-scale fisheries contribute 50 to 60% of the global catch and account for the livelihoods and primary food sources for millions. However, estimates state about 70% of the world’s fisheries are either at their limit or over-exploited. As the ocean’s yield of seafood starts to decrease, there are implications for both jobs and food security. This problem we’re seeing at the global scale is especially noteworthy in Cape Town and the Western Cape overall, which is the epicenter for seafood production and consumption in South Africa. Seafood is embedded into the South African way of life and culture, but its future is unsurprisingly threatened by unsustainable choices beginning at the supply source and ending with the consumer.

Ray Mattioli and friend
Ray Mattioli at internship

In my work on the V&A’s sustainable seafood initiative, I managed a team of seven junior associates in distilling this problem from a global to a regional one and tailoring a solution to the V&A’s needs. I also revised overarching annual growth strategy with the adjacent consultancy, provided mentorship to these students interning in Cape Town, supported the ongoing operations team, and built an updated framework for the monitoring and evaluation process. At a high level, we looked to the UN Sustainable Development Goals 2, 12, and 14 and intertwined social welfare and governance into our strategy, with the idea of unlocking shared value for the entire Western Cape ecosystem. Following some frameworks built by international organizations like Mr. Goodfish, Monterrey Bay, and WWF-SASSI, we were primed to adapt best practices and learnings to the unique Cape Town environment. For example, we found that guidelines and certifications are SA’s best standardized measure of sustainability thus far, but they can be unfairly burdensome to small fisheries who may practice sustainability, and they oftentimes prove analogous to greenwashing.

My first few weeks consisted mostly of overseeing research direction for the associates and supporting their efforts to address unsolved problem segments. We tackled difficult questions regarding high-impact target stakeholders, barriers from each stakeholder perspective, frictions from supplier to consumer, consumer behavior, effective communications, and more. After establishing our target list of restaurants and small-scale fishery owners or operators, we interviewed them while simultaneously releasing a survey to thousands of consumers gauging sustainability and WWF-SASSI knowledge. Over the remaining weeks of the project, we synthesized a pilot program backed by stakeholder data and behavioral models for the V&A to implement, which they have adopted and are moving forward with now.

I drew upon my core curriculum learnings quite heavily, as this was my first sustainability project, and my first experience fully managing a team of employees. The lessons learned in Managing Groups and Teams helped a lot in navigating interpersonal dynamics across a diverse team and properly balancing effective leadership with a positive workplace culture. Having a prior, albeit surface-level, understanding of the cultural nuances of South Africa from State & Society aided my decision-making paradigm when considering cross-cultural collaboration. The Innovator course gave me a good roadmap to follow in interviewing stakeholders. Additionally, the core put me in touch with classmates who were helpful in educating me about the day-to-day lives of South Africans.

While interning, I also had the unique opportunity to visit the inaugural Africa Impact Summit being hosted in Cape Town. The Summit served as a platform for dialogue between leaders and experts from various sectors—policy, early stage businesses and enterprises, fund management, institutional investing, development finance institutions, and international organizations—all of which are catalyzing change across Africa. Speakers defined the continent’s impact investing landscape and provided on-the-ground insights from national and regional perspectives alike. Many delegates convened from across Africa and around the world, showcasing pipeline opportunities and market building efforts, while also reflecting on the many significant challenges the continent faces.

When you’re in a program like SOM’s MBA, choosing which opportunities to pursue requires an overwhelming amount of decisiveness. Two things that stood out clearly as interests to me this past year were the continuous improvement of sustainable practices in “legacy” industries and the value of working outside of one’s bubble. I’m grateful I was able to find a perfect international opportunity on a project I was interested in for a region with a rich cultural background to experience. South Africa is known as the Rainbow Nation for the massive amount of diversity in the country, but more colloquially perhaps because of the colorful and vibrant spirits fostered by living in such a beautiful and complex country. For any curious students out there looking to experiment with their summers, I would highly recommend trying to work internationally. It is a wholesome way to grow personally, which I believe translates to better understanding oneself and becoming a more effective leader.